Monday, January 19, 2009

Art Space Talk: Jessica Wohl

Jessica Wohl, has won third place in the 2008 Graduate Scholarship Competition provided by Jessica will receive a $1,000 cash scholarship from myartspace. The myartspace Art Scholarship program began in July 2008 and entries were due by December 15, 2008. $16,000 of cash scholarships are awarded to the top three winners in the undergraduate category and the graduate category. Entry to the competition is free as is membership to myartspace.

Jessica is currently working on her Masters of Fine Arts at the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia in Drawing and Painting. She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration and Art History at the Kansas City Art Institute. In Jessica's words "I’m interested in the concept of the family. What is a family, and by what is it defined? A family constitutes a group of multiples with a shared common bond, and I investigate the nature of, and the power of that bond. I’m interested in exploring the illusion of a family: how it portrays itself to the world, how they hold themselves together, and what might happen they let themselves fall apart.

Collecting family photographs, stories, memories and imagery connects my personal experience to a larger history. I also collect culturally derived patterns and ornament, most specifically, lace, as it references my Russian ancestors. Collecting, accumulating and arranging are all ways in which one manipulates their environment to achieve perfection, and it is in the obsessive nature of my work in which I emulate the quest for perfection that many families undertake and display."

Catherine McCormack-Skiba, the founder of myartspace and CEO noted, “We had entries to the scholarship program from students at over 1,200 colleges and universities. The unbridled spirit and creativity from this group is quite impressive. While the top winners receive their recognition and award money, virtually all the submissions were of top-notch quality. We applaud the young contemporary artists in school today. Their contribution to the fine art world will be felt for decades to come. We are so excited from this first scholarship program we will be launching our 2009 scholarship program later this year and hope to see more than double the participation. Myartspace remains focused on improving the lives and careers of its community members.”

Brian Sherwin: Jessica, you are one of three winners of the graduate art scholarship competition provided by the artist social network As you know the scholarship is intended for students who exhibit exceptional artistic excellence in their chosen medium and is to be used in order to further education in art. Can you describe how you felt entering the competition and your reaction to finding out that you had won?

Jessica Wohl: As I'm sure all applicants were, I was hopeful about the competition, though I figured it was pretty competitive. The word 'scholarship' always makes students excited. My reaction to winning was, of course, surprised and excited! I am really honored. It gives me validation and makes me feel like I'm going down the right path.

BS: Can you tell us about your academic background? Where have you studied? Did you have any influential instructors?

JW: I graduated with a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute in 2001 with majors in illustration and art history. After school, I decided Illustration wasn't for me, and that I wanted to paint. My illustration background gave me painting skills, but I felt unfulfilled when it came to thinking conceptually about my work. Since I didn't have anyone to dialogue with when it came to more conceptual ideas, I knew I had to pursue graduate studies.

I'm currently in my second year of the MFA program at the Lamar Dodd School of Art in the Drawing and Painting Department at the University of Georgia. My instructors here at UGA have helped me tremendously in terms of making my work become more visually and conceptually engaging.

BS: You have stated that you are interested in the concept of the family. Can you go into further detail about that aspect of your art?

JW: I am fascinated by the idea of the family as a group of people who are bound together by various connections. Typically when families are portrayed visually, in photographs or even in the public, there is a persona or visual mask that is put on to conceal the deeper, more troubling truths that define who they are.

BS: Tell us more about the thoughts behind your work…

JW: I am very interested in the multiple, as copies always refer to an absent original. In this absence we find loss, trauma, and death, yet in the obsessive multiple, we find security and stability in the predictable nature of the visuals we distribute, consume and ultimately believe. For these paintings, the 'duplicate' or portrait of the subject (residents I volunteered with in a retirement community/nursing home) acts as a stand in for the individual.

In this case, these individuals were facing the end of their lives, and therefore the paintings foreshadow their impending absence, and the loss and trauma surrounding it. To the best of my knowledge, 5 of the 14 people I painted are no longer alive, and I wouldn't be surprised if that number has grown.

BS: What about other influences? Are you influenced by any specific artists?

JW: I am influenced greatly by photography, especially Sears family portraits, as they are the perfect example of this "posing" persona we put on and distribute, in multiple, concealing truths and presenting and distributing how happy we seem to be. The concept of the uncanny, twins, and things that occur in duplicate also profoundly impact my current work. I am also interested greatly in the abject, loss, trauma and memory. The artists I am most influenced by deal with these concepts: Gregor Schneider, Mona Hatoum, Diane Arbus, Gillian Wearing, Christian Boltanski, and Rachael Whiteread.

BS: How do you utilize symbolism within your work? For example, do colors have specific meanings to you? Discuss this aspect of your art…

JW: Most of the time symbolism occurs in the nature of the process I use. For example, the backgrounds of these works are alluring and colorful, yet they are dripping, decaying and eroding, as a metaphor for the subjects who's bodies are nearing death and decomposition. In my current collage work (soon to be posted!) I'm doing a lot of cutting and organizing, a process that implies trauma and healing.

BS: Can you discuss the art that you decided to enter into the competition. In your opinion, why do those specific works reflect your growth as an artist?

JW: This body of work started because I was experiencing a lot of guilt surrounding my grandfather's death, and I felt I wanted to capture and draw attention to people who were in a situation where they were viewed as abject. Given my training as an illustrator, this was really the first body of work where I explored a deeper concept and presented the work in a professional gallery setting. I finally had something to say, rather than illustrating someone else's ideas. Though it still looks a bit illustrative in my opinion, this body of work was the beginning of the road that I'm currently still exploring in my graduate studies.

BS: In your opinion, how is the internet changing the landscape of the art world, so to speak. Obviously artists today have more opportunities than they had before the advent of the World Wide Web. What your thoughts on this?

JW: The best thing about the web, in my opinion, is the access it provides for sharing information. My peers and I often frequent websites such as, where we can keep a finger on the pulse of what occurs daily in the contemporary art world. In terms of sharing information, I can't think of a better tool to bring art to the masses. My only hesitation would be that I hope the web never becomes a full-on surrogate for people to view art; I still think visiting a museum or gallery in person is the best way to view art, and always will be.

BS: What are your future plans as far as your art is concerned?
JW: I am still exploring ways of investigating the family, and probably will continue to do this for some time, however I am becoming increasingly more interested in ideas of the home, the environment that houses all the dysfunction. I have some ideas for sculptures and installations that I am looking forward to realizing.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art?

JW: Visually, my work differs greatly from one body to the next. I think this is a product of growing up where my daily routine and environment changed multiple times a week. Even in this chaos I found some kind of stability, so I suppose my work really is an extension of my upbringing. I hope viewers can realize that beyond these visual differences the concepts underlying the work are actually quite the same.

You can learn more about Jessica Wohl by visiting her website-- Jessica is currently a member of the community--

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
New York Art Exchange

No comments: